Dogs under threat: Beaches need warnings on lethal pufferfish

Nicolas Downer with his labrador Zeus. Picture by Hayden McKertish.
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A vet has joined a local dog owner in calling for more warnings to be posted about potentially lethal pufferfish at dog beaches. Hayden McKertish reports.

Hobson Bay City Council should do more to warn about the dangers dogs face with toxic fish at Altona beach, locals say.

Dog owner and local resident Nicolas Downe said he acted immediately after his “playful” labrador Zeus swallowed a pufferfish a few weeks ago at the dog beach, also known as PA Burns Reserve.

“I could actually see him chomping on [the fish],” he said.

When I got him to spit it out, the fish looked like it had been partially eaten. This is when I knew there was a problem.

Mr Downer took Zeus straight to the local veterinary clinic, where vomiting was induced.

“Thankfully, he’s been fine ever since, but it certainly was scary, and it certainly wasn’t cheap,” he said.

Dogs under threat: Beaches need warnings on lethal pufferfish
Not a chew toy: warning signs are needed for potentially lethal pufferfish. Picture: animalemergencyservice.com.au

Altona Dog Beach contains no warning signs to advise dog owners and beachgoers to remain cautious of potentially hazardous fish.

“There were absolutely no warning signs in sight. The only signs were to pick up after your dog,” Mr Downer said.

Hobson Bay City Council’s does not warn of the dangerous fish on its website, despite council listing the location as one of the dog off-leash areas.

Pufferfish contain a potent neurotoxin, tetrodotoxin (TTX),  commonly found on the animal’s skin. It can cause death by muscular paralysis, respiratory depression, and circulatory failure. The ingestion of a contaminated pufferfish is the usual route of toxicity.

The Animal Emergency Services website warned dog owners to be on the lookout for potential symptoms their pet had been poisoned.

Symptoms included trembling, wobbly walking pattern, blue-tinged coloured gums, dilated pupils, and muscle tremors and seizures.

Dogs under threat: Beaches need warnings on lethal pufferfish
Veterinarian Kara Long and her pet rabbit, Wilbur. Picture supplied

Bentleigh Vet Clinic veterinarian Kara Long said people would be surprised at how common this type of poisoning was.

“Initially vomiting occurs in most dogs, but not in all cases. If poisonings at lethal doses occur, this can lead to rapid generalised paresis and paralysis—with the most concerning effect being respiratory paralysis. Death can follow rapidly,” Ms Long said.

“To reduce the risk to pets and their owners, the council should provide warnings on all beaches prone to pufferfish. It would also be relevant to inform owners to keep their dogs on leads at these beaches to reduce the chance of pets ingesting them.”

Hobson Bay City Council was asked to comment on the issue but had not responded at the time of publication.